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Confessions of an incompetent card dealer

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I am not sure exactly what triggered it, but perhaps it was nothing more than the fact that somebody mentioned Indianapolis the other day and it got me to thinking about a card deal that I blew big time more than 15 years ago.

I should stipulate first and foremost that I was a lousy card dealer in those years in the 1980s and early 1990s when I set up at shows. I loved going to shows, I loved old cards and I always enjoyed meeting collectors and dealers and talking about the hobby. But when it came to actually doing dealer stuff, I stunk.
My flaws were many and profound. I only wanted to sell stuff I liked, and I frequently overpaid for it and wound up with little or no profit to show for my efforts. I liked setting up, but the packing up part didn’t really thrill me. I even priced my material based on how much I liked it, rather than on the market. I was a soft touch, in other words.

Anyway, I was set up at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis in 1992, I think, perched near the entrance. I was living in northern Indiana at the time, so this was practically a home game.
A little old black lady walked in with a couple of grandchildren in tow. I mention her race only to be descriptive; it bears no particular relevance to the story, except perhaps that the fairgrounds are located in a section of the city with a large minority population.
For whatever reason, she came up to my table first, which may have been part of my undoing. She really did have a shoebox full of cards, in this instance mostly 1960 Topps Baseball, one of my favorites.

I was floored by the condition, which was Near-Mint or better. I think there were about 300-350 cards, with a mixture of stars that made it clear that the group hadn’t been cherry picked by anyone. It was the cleanest grouping I had ever been offered, and so, naturally, I hosed it up from the start.

She told me she wanted nearly 100 percent of the value listed in the price guides, which she had already consulted to great extent. Not wanting to be the one to explain that paying that much was hardly an option, I offered her nearly full book prices for a couple dozen of the star cards, which was still probably silly, but it didn’t matter anyway. She said she would look around and get back to me. I made a mental note that I would have offered her about $2,000 for the whole box, but I didn’t say it to her because I didn’t want to face her disappointment, since I figured (a guess) that she was looking for $3,500 or more. As I said, I wasn’t very good at what I was doing.

So she starts walking her treasures around the room, and I watched as she did this, hoping against hope that she might return to my table with more reasonable expectations.

Maybe 40 minutes later, she did get back to my area, just not to my table. She wound up at the table next to mine, and by now had been schooled enough by a half-dozen or more other dealers that she was looking to accept $1,100 for the whole shoebox.

I watched horrified as she ultimately took $1,050 from my neighbor. If you are wondering why I didn’t speak up and explain that I would have been willing to pay nearly double that amount, then you aren’t familiar with card-show protocol. I was an inept card dealer, but I understood what bad form that would have been. I have spent a good deal of time in poolrooms, so I have this innate fear of getting my thumbs broken.

So I suffered in silence, and virtually for the rest of the weekend, since I had to watch the guy tinker with those cards until Sunday's closing.

And lest you conclude that the money offered was somehow unfair, I would refer you again to the paragraph where I noted that I wasn’t a very good card dealer. Like virtually all businesses, one of the fundamentals of dealing is to buy as low as possible, if for no other reason than to offset those deals where circumstances prompt you to overpay.

One of the ironies of the situation was that the show world was a lot friendlier beast 15 years ago than it is today. The arrival of the Internet has changed so many equations in our hobby – just as it has for virtually every facet of modern life that it touches – that trying to make money at shows is much tougher today than it was then.

Oh well, I probably would have just taken most of them and upgraded my 1960 Topps set.

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